Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 10:59 a.m.
The Real Squatters of OC: busted
Newport Beach Police Department detectives slapped handcuffs on the couple and hauled them to jail after the Orange County district attorney's office filed criminal charges against them for illegally squatting in a $2.6 million, ocean-view Newport Coast home.
During an interview for my article, the Duncans admitted they'd entered the house at 10 Hidden Pass--not far from the estate of Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant--changed the locks and put the utilities in their names, even though they did not own the property or have the owner's consent.
Squatters have taken over houses throughout less affluent areas of Orange County in dismal economic times, but invading a home in an exclusive, gated community with views of the Pacific Ocean seems to be a relatively new trend.
You can bet actual property owners in the Newport Coast neighborhood weren't pleased.
Yet the Duncans confidently told me they were immune to both civil and criminal liability because the house, which was heading to foreclosure, had been unoccupied.
They said squatting implied something unethical or illegal, and they insisted they'd done nothing wrong.
Obviously, detectives at the Newport Beach Police Department and Senior Deputy District Attorney Peter Pierce, who is handling the case in the DA's Major Fraud unit, think differently. They say the couple concocted a fake lease for the property as a way to dupe law enforcement into inaction.
But the scheme didn't work; the Duncans now face two felony charges each--second-degree burglary and conspiracy--and misdemeanor charges of trespassing.
They were booked into Orange County Jail this afternoon and must each pay $25,000 in bail to leave confinement.
If convicted, the Duncans face a maximum punishment of three years in a California prison, according to Farrah Emami, spokeswoman for the DA's office.
The Duncans, who took over the Newport Coast property in mid-September and refused to leave, had used Kelly Scott Johnson, a Newport Beach lawyer, to threaten a lawsuit against homeowners'-association officials because they declined to grant the couple gate entrance and exit privileges.
Without being able to use the main gate, which is manned 24 hours per day, Chris Duncan told me, he and his wife were "prisoners in our own home."
Local law enforcement has made it clear with today's action that squatters can't be so arrogant in the future.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly